I lived to play baseball.
This was back when the Yankees never lost and the Giants were in San Francisco and the biggest stars in the game were Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. I knew that Mickey grew up in Oklahoma and suffered from osteomyelitis and I purchased a biography of the Say Hey Kid on vacation in Atlantic City that I never read and I listened to the game on my transistor, under my pillow, I was addicted.
Not that my father paved the way. My mother was very athletic, she played golf, she’d watch the game, but my father never would.
But he stoked my jones, buying me a glove, taking me to the Stadium, but even more than being a fan I liked to play.
This was back when you’d leave the house and tell your mother you’d be home for dinner, when she had no idea where you really were, not that she was worried. And sure, there were some couch potatoes, but most kids played outside, sometimes making up their own games, I remember building miniature golf courses in the backyard, and walking up to the schoolyard to play baseball.
It wasn’t organized. It was just whoever showed up. And you knew who was good and you knew who was bad but you chose teams and decided who’d be up first by choking up on the bat.
Actually, I never walked, I always rode my bike, before you had to lock it up, when tires were fat and pedaling was slow and you had to haul it up a hill but the bike was just a vehicle…
To the diamond.
And in my town there were three leagues, National, American and Greenfield Hill. And ultimately, in July, a town championship played amongst the three. We made it all the way back in ’64, but were bounced in the final in ’65. In ’63 we didn’t make it at all, I was on the Beechmont Dairy team, one of two designated ten year olds, I got a weak infield hit before I went to camp, I never told the coach I was going, missing the final four games, and when I showed up the following season to play…
I got cut.
Now this was back when it used to snow. Although it’s snowing again now, how wacky is the weather? But you never brought out the ball in February, it was unheard of, but as soon as you got to March 1st…
It was baseball season!
We watched the Grapefruit League on TV, but even more we threw the ball, even though the ground might still be frozen. We were ready.
And in Connecticut in March, the winds are fierce. To the point where it would impact the game. But we played anyway.
And tryouts began on April 1st.
By time you hit April…
It was spring. It was not gonna snow again. There were occasionally winds, but practice was never canceled.
There was a new coach for Beechmont Dairy, his son had to play, therefore I got bounced. But I ended up on a much better team, the Korner Market, where down the street they had the team photos in the store, coached by Mr. Russo, who only had girls, who was into the game, who was doing it to give back, where are these people today?
My father knew him, he was a liquor salesman and my dad owned a liquor store.
And we had a very good team.
Opening day was right around now. We’d all go down to Gould Manor Park where we’d strut around in our uniforms and there would be introductions and a game and my parents would come with me, which was the only time they’d show up. Oh, once during the season maybe my dad would come, but when they moved the field further away he never did.
And if we won, we got Dairy Queen.
If we lost, we headed home heads down, dejected.
But I lived to play.
And I thought of all this when I looked out the window last night and it was still light at 7:30. You see at the beginning of the season that was always a factor, whether the six inning game would make it to the end, before it got dark. You’d be fighting the light, it would be hard to see the ball, but as spring moved on this was no longer an issue.
And it was not like Los Angeles, because of the humidity spring would get HOT! You didn’t need a jacket when you rode your bicycle, but you didn’t go to the beach and swim the day of a game, that would slow you down, but that was the only precaution.
I know it’s different now. I know little kids play soccer. And then comes t-ball. And everybody gets a trophy. But back in my day…
You either had the goods or you didn’t. Either you made the team or you didn’t. And a trophy meant everything.
Maybe that’s the difference between baby boomers and their children. We strove towards excellence, it was more important than being a member of the group. Then again, we were bullied with no pushback from our parents. We endured and we survived. Physically anyway.
And I never watch baseball anymore. I got out when the teams went to double knits. And now it’s even worse, because of the dedication of my brethren, my fellow baby boomers. They believe the game will keep them young. But the players are faceless and the kids would rather play eSports and the excitement is gone.
But still… The one great thing about baseball is it ain’t over till it’s over, you can always come back.